Yesterday, we discussed the new information about the construction and size of the cosmos we are learning from the James Webb Space Telescope. The Webb telescope shows us the size of God’s physical creation as NASA continues to pump out new discoveries and better understandings of star and planet formation. Search “James Webb Telescope” on your computer and see for yourself.
One of the better understandings from recent Webb telescope data is what it takes to make a planet like Earth. The conventional understanding of planet formation was that as stars formed, they threw off material that gravity pulled together, forming planets. The Webb telescope has the resolving power and the infrared light-gathering ability to observe planet formation in different stages.
The first step in planet formation is for the star to actively produce elements needed for terrestrial planet formation. Quiet stars do not make the necessary elements since heavier elements will move toward the star’s center, not outwards. The star must spin fast enough to throw out the required heavy materials. That means gaseous planets like Jupiter are much more common in the cosmos than terrestrial planets like Earth.
The heavier elements in a planet come from exploding stars. That means planets will be more likely in certain types of galaxies, and galaxies have an evolutionary history, changing with time. The Webb telescope actually observes the changes in galaxies and star and planet formation. The creation process is still active, and new planets are being formed as we watch.
In manufacturing, we know that a machine is designed to take raw materials and mold and shape them into the desired final product. Years ago, I worked for a man who designed and built such machines, and his wisdom and creativity were incredible to watch. This designer didn’t use a blueprint or follow a manual. He had the skill to comprehend what the final machine would look like and what it would do.
As we watch star and planet formation take place, we see the wisdom and creativity of God. The writer of Proverbs wrote, “O you simple ones, understand wisdom and you foolish ones, be of an understanding heart” (Proverbs 8:5). The Webb telescope allows us to see the wisdom of the Creator in ways we have never imagined.
With all the distractions going on in the world, it is easy to miss perhaps the most remarkable engineering accomplishment of human history. A telescope launched on Christmas Day 2021 is now much further from Earth than the Moon is. The Webb Space Telescope consists of 18 hexagonal mirrors with a total area of 273 square feet (69.54 x 46.46 feet) and can see things in space that can’t be viewed from Earth’s surface. The cost to make the telescope and place it in space was 10 billion dollars, so is it worth the price? Yes, it is! What we learn from the Webb telescope tells us more about God.
More than 40 years ago, J.B. Phillips wrote a book titled Your God is Too Small. The first thing we learned from the Webb telescope is that the cosmos is much bigger than we can imagine. The telescope can see things that no optical device on Earth can. We live in a galaxy containing roughly 100 billion stars, and we know there are many other galaxies in space. Webb has shown us vast numbers of distant galaxies, and as we measure how far away they are, we see what the creation looked like billions of years ago.
Let me give you a simple explanation of what that means. If you travel to a place 100 miles away at 50 miles per hour, how long will it take to get there? The answer is two hours. When we measure how far away these galaxies are, we can tell when the light we see left them. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second. Doing the same calculation, we know the light reaching the Webb telescope left those galaxies some 13 billion years ago. We are looking backward in time to near the beginning of creation.
The latest pictures from Webb show that these old galaxies are flat like a sheet of paper. We learn from the Webb telescope that the creator was molding and shaping galaxies into a form that would allow planets and, ultimately, life to exist. As we understand the creation process, we see power beyond what we can imagine. Like all scientific discoveries, that raises many new and exciting questions for us to study and understand. It further tells us how unique Earth is and raises an old question the ancients asked about God, “What is man that you are mindful of him” (Psalms 8:4).
Many things in the creation do not lend themselves to conventional science. Gravity is an excellent example. What is gravity, and where did it come from? Issac Newton suggested that gravity was a property of mass because the more mass something has, the more it weighs. A physics equation describes gravity, saying that if you have two masses, there will be a force of attraction between them.
In a high school physics experiment, we hung two large bags of sand near each other. Gravity would pull them toward each other, and if you increased the amount of sand, it would draw them closer. Using a group of levers, the students could measure the force between the two bags. We can measure it, but what is gravity?
Instead of bags of sand, scientists measure the gravity force between the Earth, Moon, and Sun. What keeps Earth orbiting the Sun and the Moon orbiting the Earth? Isaac Newton proposed that the distance between objects affected the amount of gravitational force between them. An equation describing the attraction between masses 1 and 2 must include the masses, the distance between them, and a number known as the gravitational constant. The equation is F = G (M-1)(M-2)/X2. G is the gravitational constant, and scientists have measured it to be 6.67 x 10 -11. If the value of the constant G differed from what it is, the Earth could not exist, and neither could we.
If you don’t follow all of that, don’t worry about it. The point is that gravity is a complex quantity that holds everything together. But that leaves questions unanswered. What is gravity? Is it a wave? How can it work over huge distances? How can mass cause gravity – or does it? Why is the gravity constant precisely what it is?
As science probes deeper into the nature of matter, time, space, and energy, it becomes increasingly evident that not everything physical has a physical cause. We cannot explain the creation of time, space, energy, or gravity by conventional science. As you read modern research reports, you see that our world was shaped from dimensions beyond the four we know about. The laws that govern our world and the dimensions we live in do not fully describe the nature of gravity, time, or even space.
Ancient biblical writers guided by the Spirit of God understood that a wise Creator designed our world. The writer of Proverbs 8 personifies wisdom, giving it a feminine nature. Wisdom says, “O you simple, understand wisdom and have an understanding heart. The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way before His works of old. I was set up from eternity, from the beginning and before the earth ever was.”
Open-minded contemplation of the creation leads to the recognition that an infinite intelligence beyond that of any human brought the physical creation into existence. We learn from the Bible that God’s purpose was to allow the war between good and evil to end once and forever and that we play an essential role in that war.
Dr. James C. Peterson, writing in the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, gave some astounding numbers to help us comprehend the magnitude of the Creator. These facts should cause amazement that God could care about us as individuals.
Peterson writes, “There are 12 times as many stars in our galaxy as there are people on our planet.” It is hard to comprehend that God knows about me at all when you realize that there are 100 billion stars in our galaxy, and there are two trillion galaxies that we know of. Peterson points out we are on a dot (planet Earth) compared to the size of the Sun, which is a dot compared to the size of our galaxy.
Despite those facts, God knows my name and how many hairs are on my head (Luke 12:6-7). The Creator of the cosmos “knows within me my thirty trillion cells, and the three billion base pairs of my personal DNA copied in a complete set, inside each of my nucleated cells.” It has been said that the more we know about the creation, the more we comprehend the magnitude of the Creator.
The psalmist David seemed to comprehend the magnitude of the Creator as he looked at the stars without telescopes and marveled at their creation. In Psalms 19:1, David wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” In Psalms 139:13-15 David writes, “…you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret…”
Today, as we look outward with our telescopes and inward with our microscopes, we have more reason to be amazed than David ever did. David wrote in Psalms 8:3-4, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”
There is more to fill us with awe than just the magnitude of the Creator. We also marvel at the magnitude of His love. Jesus spoke of the “agape” form of love, which considers every human to be of incredible worth no matter who they are or their station in life. Earth would be at peace if all humans could grasp that concept. Perhaps someday, enough of us will realize that our concept of the Creator is too small and the value we place on the creation and on our fellow humans is too limited to allow war to continue.
Scientists and philosophers speculate on the question, “Why Is There Something Instead of Nothing?” The question is why our solar system exists and why there should be countless galaxies other than our Milky Way. Part of this question no one can answer, at least not at the present time. What is the purpose for the cosmos?
Is there intelligent life in any of the other solar systems? We can’t answer that question yet. However, if God’s purpose in creating the physical world in which we live is to advance the battle between good and evil, would He also do that in other places? Isaiah 55:8-9 challenges us to understand that God is not limited to our capacity to think and understand. In that passage, God says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways … For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Science fiction writers have created a whole industry on the assumption that the war between good and evil is ongoing and not limited to the planet on which we live.
A theologian may object to the possibility of other planets with intelligent life, saying, “So you think that Jesus died more than once and experienced more than one resurrection?” The answer to that is “no.” The biblical account is limited to planet Earth. However, many years ago, on a Larry King talk show with an atheist, a caller asked the atheist, “What would you do if a spaceship landed on the White House lawn and a little green man jumped out with a Bible in his hand and said, ‘Has Jesus been here yet?'” My atheist opponent smiled and said, “Punt.”
God may provide a different means for the battle between good and evil than what we see on planet Earth. The point is that there is a purpose for our existence and a purpose for the cosmos. God may use other places and methods to carry out that battle. On a cosmic level, the atheist has no purpose for existing.
Another point we must consider about why the universe exists is that all we see in the cosmos may simply be the result of the creation of time, space, and energy in the beginning. We now understand that the “big bang” singularity was not just a physical process. God created time and space, and matter-energy was engrained in the fabric of space. For us humans, limited to our five senses and able only to comprehend the changes in our physical world, the purpose for the cosmos is beyond our current understanding.
Recent advances in quantum mechanics have shown that time did have a beginning and that the fabric of space contains all the residual matter produced by the creation process. God was not just concerned about the scientifically ignorant population of the days of Moses and Christ. God knew that humans would eventually come to understand the creation process to such an extent that we could see evidence of God’s hand in the cosmos. As God’s ultimate creation, it makes sense that humans would seek to know the purpose for the cosmos.
We suggest that what makes humans unique and special is our spiritual makeup, being created in the image of God. Our physical qualities are of secondary importance. The whole message of the cosmos is that God is a God of incredible power, wisdom, and purpose. The universe radiates that, and the more we see of the creation, the more we understand of its Creator.
We previously discussed the religious history of Halloween, but it also has a connection to astronomical events. Halloween is a cross-quarter day halfway between the equinox and the solstice. The equinox is when day and night have equal lengths, and the winter solstice is the shortest day and the longest night. (Groundhog Day is also a cross-quarter day.)
Humans find all kinds of reasons to celebrate visible astronomical events. Some cultures have given each of the seasonal cycles some great religious significance. Neolithic builders erected Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England, over a period of 1500 years, perhaps to commemorate the summer and winter solstices. That structure shows a great understanding of the equinox and solstice, and it was, and still is, a place of worship.
Other cultures have used astronomical events to govern their religious beliefs. The pyramids of the Egyptians and the Aztecs are examples, and there are many others. Even the celebration of Christmas has astronomical connections to the winter solstice. Several cults have tried to attach great significance to astronomical events, almost always with disastrous results.
The Bible makes it clear that the followers of Jesus must not be swept up in the celebration of heavenly bodies. Acts 1:7 tells us, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father has put in his own power.” The message of Christ is a spiritual one, not locked into watching what happens with the Sun and the Moon. Colossians 2:16 tells Christians, “Let no man, therefore, judge you in meat, or in drink or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or the sabbath days.”
It isn’t that Christians aren’t interested in what happens in the design and function of the universe, but we are warned not to engage in idolatry. Worshipping and serving created things rather than the Creator is idolatry (Romans 1:25). God’s word is the guide we should follow.
NASA released a fascinating picture showing solar system formation. The star in the picture is PDS 70, and the resolution is so good that a planet orbiting the star is clearly visible. Also visible is a disk around the planet, apparently forming several moons.
This picture shows what astronomers believe was the process that produced Jupiter and some of its moons. This is the first time astronomers have seen a solar system formation in progress. The amazing thing about this is that it is very reminiscent of the Bible’s description of the process God used to produce the Earth and the other objects in our solar system.
Genesis 1:1 uses the Hebrew word for creation (bara), which describes a process that only God can do, creating something from nothing. Modern science has now shown that time, space, and matter/energy came into existence at a point called a singularity, but can’t answer what went on before this singularity. From verse 1 through the rest of Genesis chapter 1, the word “bara” is not used until verse 21, when God created the first animal life. The term used elsewhere is “asah,” which describes changing something already created. (See verses 7, 16, and 25.) The word “bara” is used again in verse 27, when God created man and woman in his own image. Chapter 2, verse 3 summarizes what God had done by saying that He rested from all He had created (bara) and made (asah).
What we are now seeing is how material already created is crafted into a solar system. We may never know what purpose God has for these other solar systems. However, watching this solar system formation helps us understand the formation of our solar system and our unique planet. We know that our giant gas planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) are strategically placed to protect Earth from collisions by comets and other objects coming from outside our solar system.
In Palms 8:3-4 we read, “When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him,…” We don’t see the answer to that question in the physical processes God has used and continues to use. The significance of humans and Jesus Christ’s teachings reveal God’s spiritual purposes in the creation.
If you were in the path of the annular solar eclipse on Saturday, October 14, 2023, and had a clear sky, you were privileged to see something that won’t happen again until 2039. In an annular solar eclipse, as opposed to total or partial eclipses, the Moon passes directly between the Sun and Earth without totally blocking the Sun. That is because the Moon is at a distant point in its eliptical orbit. Because of that, it appears slightly smaller, so its shadow cannot completely hide the Sun from our view.
The Moon and Sun are on the same side of Earth once every 29.5 days. We call that event the “new moon” because it is invisible to us. When the Sun and Moon are on opposite sides, we see the monthly “full moon.” Because the orbit of the Moon is 5 degrees off from the Sun’s path (which we call the ecliptic), the Moon rarely falls precisely between the Sun and Earth. When it does, we see a total solar eclipse. When it is a little off from directly blocking the Sun’s light, we witness a partial solar eclipse. We have an annular solar eclipse on those rare times when the Moon is directly in front of the Sun but at its farthest distance from Earth (known as apogee). We see the “ring of fire” around the Moon’s shadow, which is what happened Saturday.
Although the lower 48 United States all experienced a partial eclipse, those in the direct path of the Moon’s shadow witnessed an annular solar eclipse. It began in Oregon, traveled across several western states, and exited from Texas into the Gulf of Mexico. It then covered several Central and South American countries before leaving into the Atlantic Ocean from Brazil. Millions of people could view this annular eclipse. In the U.S., the eclipse crossed several national parks, including Bryce Canyon, where Does God Exist? has often taken groups on our Canyonlands tours.
The wonderfully amazing thing is that we can accurately predict solar (and lunar) eclipses hundreds of years, even a thousand years into the future. That is because we live in a precision-designed universe and solar system. The next solar eclipse crossing North America will be a total eclipse at 2:10 p.m. Eastern time on April 8, 2024. You can put that on your calendar.
When you look at the astronomical data on the red giant star Mu Cephei, you can’t help but be amazed at the size and power of things we can see in the cosmos. We read passages like Psalms 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.” The Hebrew word “glory” is “kabod,” and the lexicon’s first use of that word is weight or power. Mu Cephei is an incredible demonstration of the power of the Creator.
If we could put Mu Cephei in the place of the Sun, the orbit of Jupiter would fit inside it. That means the size of this one star, which is relatively close to the solar system (2800 light years), would exceed the orbits of Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. If our understanding of stellar evolution is correct, this giant star will eventually collapse into a supernova, producing the elements you and I are made of. We now understand that the stuff we see, the elements that make up everything on Earth, are only 5% of the universe. The European Space Agency’s Planck satellite has revealed that 68% of the cosmos consists of dark energy, 27% is dark matter, and only 5% is atomic matter. So the red giant star Mu Cephei and everything else we can see is only a tiny part of the cosmos.
Science has just scratched the surface of comprehending the fundamental nature of the universe. The words of Psalms 8:3-4 are magnified by what we see as we look into space with our instruments and technology: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars which you have ordained, what is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that you visit him.” The only answer that can come to thinking people is that we are summoned to a higher calling than the physical world in which we live.
After Job’s complaining, God answered him by saying, “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” Then, God challenged Job with many questions about creation in chapters 38 to 41. Humbled, Job responded, “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” Using our technology, we can examine the red giant star Mu Cephei and know much more about creation than Job ever could. But there are still many wonderful things that we do not know.
One of the most amazing technological advances of the past ten years has been the production and deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope. The magnitude of this advance is so enormous that National Geographic published a special issue in October 2023 titled “Space.” Tom Abel is a computational cosmologist who leads the National Geographic writers through what the Webb telescope has enabled scientists to understand about the creation process. Abel describes what the Webb telescope tells us about the creation of the elements necessary for life to exist. Here is his description from page 94:
“..the supernovae of stars up to hundreds of times the mass of the sun, transformed the universe. New elements were generated – oxygen to make water, silicon to build planets, phosphorus to power cells – and scattered throughout the expanse. The first stars also broke apart the atoms of the surrounding hydrogen gas, burning away the cosmic haze and making things transparent – a key time known as reionization. As the fog lifted, pockets of stars merged, swirling into bigger and bigger assemblages, including the seed of our own Milky Way.”
No scientist can explain the creation of space and time or the mass/energy that allowed these transformations to occur. However, what we are seeing is that, like Genesis 1, the Webb telescope tells us about creation. Understanding how God molded and shaped what He had already created is exciting and encouraging. Proverbs chapter 8 personifies Wisdom, saying, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, before there was ever an earth (verses 22-23).” Wisdom then goes on to describe some of the things the Lord made.
Science is a great friend of faith, and as technology advances, our understanding of God’s work becomes more glorious and amazing. Psalms 19:1 finds David glorifying God by stating that the firmament (cosmos) shows His handiwork. Learning more about God’s power, and wisdom, strengthens our faith. Understanding more about God’s creation, causes us to glorify Him. It renews our conviction about our purpose for existing and helps us to realize how blessed we are to be created in the image of God.